The Psychological Impact on Women During Times of War

Written by: Mirna Mohammad Matar

Researcher in Political Science

In the darkness that covers the land of Gaza, femininity is lost among the ruins of wars, as war is an act of violence. Women, who are considered the pillars of society, are subjected to various forms of violations. Women are one of the most vulnerable groups in times of armed conflicts and wars. This prompted the General Assembly to adopt Resolution No. 3318 (4) in May 1974, on the protection of women and children in emergency situations and armed conflicts.

Before displacement, Palestinian women were subjected to the most heinous crimes that disregarded women’s rights as enshrined in international law. Barbaric bombings, forced labor, and harassment such as being forced to remove their hijabs, all paint a horrifying picture of life before displacement. During the displacement process, Palestinian women faced additional violations, including bombardment, arbitrary detention, and inhumane treatment, all forming a part of the harsh reality that they face during displacement.

The long-term impact of these violations on the lives of Palestinian women cannot be ignored. The international community’s role in protecting women’s rights during armed conflict must be more effective. Women in Gaza, like women all over the world, deserve to live with dignity and freedom. They deserve the right to life, safety, and justice. The world must hear their cries.

The psychological impact of wars and conflicts on women can be immense and even devastating. Women who have faced violence and violations generally suffer from various psychological symptoms, including trauma, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • Trauma: Trauma is a natural reaction to horrific and traumatic events. Women who have experienced violence and abuse can feel traumatized, distraught and scared.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear that can be severe enough to interfere with daily life. Women who have experienced violence can feel anxious about personal safety and the future.
  • Depression: Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Women who have experienced violence can suffer from depression due to the traumatic events they have witnessed or endured.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a psychological disorder that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Women who have faced violence and abuse can suffer from PTSD, which can cause nightmares, flashbacks and physical symptoms such as headaches and insomnia.

Psychological support and psychotherapy can be powerful tools, and even necessary alongside primary aid, to help women who have experienced violence and abuse during wars and conflicts recover and rebuild their lives. Recognizing the psychological impact of war on women and providing the necessary support is an essential step towards justice and healing.

Additionally, Palestinian women suffer from inhumane treatment during displacement, according to Ms Rana Jaber, “We had to relieve ourselves in the street or wait for a very long time.” This causes health problems for women due to the prolonged displacement and lack of transportation, with displacement journeys taking hours. Displaced women during their menstrual periods suffer significantly as they cannot stop or rest due to the occupation’s instructions to keep moving.

Palestinian women have also suffered from arbitrary arrests and stoppages during displacement, with more than fifty women from the Gaza Strip, including elderly women and infants, have been documented to have been arrested. According to testimonies, they have been subjected to abuse and ill-treatment, with their fate shrouded in complete secrecy by the occupation. For instance, Khawla Abu Zaida, a 40-year-old resident of northern Gaza, reported that her 19-year-old daughter, Aseel Abu Zaida, who was arrested during displacement, had her gold, valued at forty thousand US dollars, stolen and has not been retrieved as she remains detained by the Israeli occupation.

As a result of the war, Palestinian women are currently facing the absence of the basic necessities for a dignified life. Bathrooms, if available, are few and for general use, clean water is scarce, there is no proper sewage system or sanitation, and electricity is unavailable. The situation worsens in winter as rain pours into the tents, which lack effective means of heating. These conditions lead to disease outbreaks, especially among women, who need to maintain their health with care and attention. Nourhan Abu Nahl, who is seven months pregnant, reported that she suffered from dehydration and intestinal infections and almost lost her baby had it not been for the intervention of doctors. The dire humanitarian situation and the lack of fuel and petrol also led to the transport of Lina Abu Odeh during her labor by animal cart to the hospital, where she told us: “I lost my privacy in the weakest moment that a woman may be in and I was screaming in the street from pain and everyone saw me because I could not bear the pain, especially since the movement of the cart was increasing the pain of labor due to the broken streets as well.”

In parallel, the civil war in Sudan has had a devastating impact on women, with millions affected by gender-based violence, displacement, and loss of livelihoods. Women face various challenges, including lack of privacy, safety concerns, and limited access to education and employment opportunities. The conflict has resulted in immense suffering for women, with reports of sexual violence, rape, and other atrocities. Women-led initiatives and coalitions have emerged to address these issues and advocate for peace and women’s rights

The war has led to millions of women losing their livelihoods, savings, and access to basic services like healthcare and food. Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, has been a prevalent issue during the conflict, with reports of numerous incidents affecting women and girls. The lack of funding, humanitarian aid access, and security challenges have hindered efforts to support women in need.

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